Unsustainable Empire

Alternative Histories of Hawai‘i Statehood

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 27 illustrations Published: December 2018

American Studies, Asian American Studies, Native and Indigenous Studies

In Unsustainable Empire Dean Itsuji Saranillio offers a bold challenge to conventional understandings of Hawai‘i’s admission as a U.S. state. Hawai‘i statehood is popularly remembered as a civil rights victory against racist claims that Hawai‘i was undeserving of statehood because it was a largely non-white territory. Yet Native Hawaiian opposition to statehood has been all but forgotten. Saranillio tracks these disparate stories by marshaling a variety of unexpected genres and archives: exhibits at world's fairs, political cartoons, propaganda films, a multimillion-dollar hoax on Hawai‘i’s tourism industry, water struggles, and stories of hauntings, among others. Saranillio shows that statehood was neither the expansion of U.S. democracy nor a strong nation swallowing a weak and feeble island nation, but the result of a U.S. nation whose economy was unsustainable without enacting a more aggressive policy of imperialism. With clarity and persuasive force about historically and ethically complex issues, Unsustainable Empire provides a more complicated understanding of Hawai‘i’s admission as the fiftieth state and why Native Hawaiian place-based alternatives to U.S. empire are urgently needed.


"[Unsustainable Empire is] a very powerful book with which to teach about what it means to work across social movements." — Jaskiran Dhillon, Edge Effects

"Unsustainable Empire adds to scholarship on American nation-building, settler colonialism, statehood histories, and public relations politics and propaganda. The book should be a welcome addition to introductory-level history courses that deal with American empire or history and memory." — Julie Hawks, Journal of American Culture

“This is an absolutely brilliant book on the little-known or remembered struggle over statehood and the role of white supremacy in Asian settler colonialism and supposed multicultural equality in Hawai‘i. It is timely, necessary, and exceedingly well-argued. Unsustainable Empire reveals how nonhaole settler colonialism in Hawai‘i works, how the myth of multiculturalism in the statehood movement operated, and what the legacy of statehood is today. Importantly, the book introduces us to the Kanaka and non-Kanaka characters who fought against statehood based on ideas of justice for Kanaka.” — Noenoe K. Silva, author of The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen: Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History

"Beautifully written and robustly theorized, Unsustainable Empire provides a much-needed intellectual, epistemological, and political intervention in multiple fields as it challenges the segregation of knowledge production in relation to Hawai‘i and the distinctions between indigeneity, race, and ethnicity. One of the book’s best features is its polished and refined way of retelling Hawaii’s history in a way that turns prevailing orthodoxy on its head, offering a sustained interrogation in an accessible and exciting way.” — J. Kehaulani Kauanui, author of Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty: Land, Sex, and the Colonial Politics of State Nationalism


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Dean Itsuji Saranillio is Assistant Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface. "Statehood Sucks"  ix
Acknowledgments  xxi
Introduction. Colliding Futures of Hawai‘i Statehood  1
1. A Future Wish: Hawai‘i at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition  31
2. The Courage to Speak: Disrupting Haole Hegemony at the 1937 Congressional Statehood Hearings  67
3. "Something Indefinable Would Be Lost": The Unruly Kamokila and Go for Broke!  99
4. The Propaganda of Occupation: Statehood and the Cold War  131
5. Alternative Futures beyond the Settler State  171
Conclusion. Scenes of Resurgence: Slow Violence and Slow Resistance  197
Notes  211
Bibliography  245
Index  267
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0083-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0062-4
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